Heading up to Manchester for Labour conference, I’m wondering what the result of the leadership election is going to be, and thinking about the last minute predictions from un-informed bookies and pundits.
I hope, if everything has gone correctly at the ERS, that only a few people know the actual result yet, and I suspect that votes are still being verified. So it’s a bit frustrating to see the media trying to prejudge the outcome.
When I arrive in Manchester I’ll be going straight to my hotel and then to the conference hall for the leadership announcement. The 4pm start time will no doubt slip to something more like 5pm, or later, as always seems to be the way with events at party conference. But I don’t mind waiting, the result of the leadership election will probably decide if Labour returns to power again at the next election and may well determine when that election is.
A shift to the soft-left by Labour’s new leader would please some in the Party, but I know that this would not be the right thing for Labour or the country. Over the last thirteen years in government, Labour showed that it could use its democratic socialist values to inform policies that benefitted the whole country. Yes there were certainly times when that didn’t happen and we have been reminded throughout this leadership conference of those mistakes such as Iraq, so I won’t list them all here.
But while the leadership contest has rightly been a chance for party members and supporters to share their views on the Labour Government’s record and in particular what they were unhappy with. The election of our new leadership today in Manchester is the time to stop that sustained critique of our record, and to focus attention on the positive change that Labour initiated in government. The public do not need us to rubbish our record, coalition ministers are already doing that and in particular Labour’s economic management. Our new Leader need a robust response to the charge from Nick Clegg and David Cameron that public spending caused the financial crisis and that Labour’s mismanagement of public spending led to the challenging financial decisions that everyone now recognise need to be taken in order to reduce the deficit.
This should be a matter of urgency for the new Leader as they will be facing David Cameron at the despatch box on the 20th October to challenge the coalition on its brutal and ideologically driven Spending Review. The decisions taken by coalition ministers to cut budgets across government by up to a quarter will leave many voters un-touched, but for many people the cuts will be felt instantly. For example, research by the Fawcett Society showed that the cuts will disproportionately hurt women.
I’m almost certain that many people in the Labour Party will want to continue voicing their unhappiness with Labour’s record in Government. They will not want to stop attacking ‘new Labour’ or the people who led Labour in Government. They will want to attack their colleague’s in the Party for moving to the centre-ground in British politics, and they’ll want our new Leader to ditch the new Labour brand.
But I hope that our new leader recognises that Labour didn’t secure a majority in 1997, 2001, and 2005 by simply appealing to a small group of voters who are the true core of Labour. And that to win back power from this centre-right coalition Labour needs to stay firmly in the centre ground.
Some Labour shadow ministers have tussled this week over the need to reconsider our position on reducing the deficit. It’s also important that the new Leader has as sensible and well thought out position on this, that offers voters a real sense of what Labour would do if elected to restore people’s trust in our economic management.
I’ll be sitting in the hall with everyone else hoping that the right candidate is elected, one who will defend Labour’s legacy and lead us back to power.
Chair, Young Fabians